By Josh Easby
It was meant to be our game of the season – playing the curtainraiser to the Phoenix v New Zealand A match at Rotorua International Stadium before a crowd of 3,500.
My team (I coach the Cambridge women’s first team) lost 5-1 to locals Rotorua United.
As we trudged towards the dressing rooms, I ran into an old mate, former All White player and team manager Brian Turner. He was getting his players ready for the main game but had seen the latter stages of the women’s match.
I asked if he’d mind sticking his head into our dressing room and offering a few words of encouragement.
“No problem,” he said.
Brian came into the changing room and talked off-the-cuff for five minutes.
Not about the match, or the result. Not about winning or losing.
Instead he talked of friendship, the friendship that football offers.
He told the team he and I had been football mates for 40 years and I was one of hundreds of people he could count as friends, and all because of contact through the game we both loved.
“Look at your team mates,” Brian urged. “In 40 years, you probably won’t remember today’s score but I’ll be you’ll still be friends with some of the people in this room.”
“When you finish playing the game, the best thing you’ll have achieved will be the friendships you make on days like this.”
It was great advice and I know he’ll be right.
That was more than a year ago and Turner has since finished his role as team manager for the All Whites, ending an association with the national side that started when he made his international debut as a teenager in 1967.
These days, Turner is one of the driving forces behind Friends of Football, a non-profit organisation that aims to bring football lovers together to capitalise on the friendships formed within the sport.
Other committee members include former NZ Football chair John Morris, All Whites Earle Thomas and Sam Malcolmson, dual football/cricket international Mark Burgess and the captain of the first NZ women’s team, Barbara Cox. Broadcaster Andrew Dewhurst veteran football writer Armin Lindenberg provide the group’s media skills.
The group launched with a tribute dinner for 1982 All Whites coach John Adshead in Auckland last year.
This year, Turner was guest speaker at a FoF lunch at Cambridge before the WaiBOP United v Auckland City ASB Premiership fixture, using it to promote the group and to make it clear it wasn’t wholly an Auckland affair.
(In-the-back-of-the-net published a transcript of Turner’s speech from that event).
Next month – on Thursday November 6 – Friends of Football stages its next big event, a dinner billed as “A Celebration of Excellence”. Headline speakers will be new All Whites coach Anthony Hudson and NZ Football CEO Andy Martin.
The event will include a tribute to “a high profile international footballer” (his identity is being withheld to provide an element of surprise), as well as the announcement of the winners of this year’s football media awards.
It’s shaping to be a great night when football people can revel in talk about the state of the game – and catch up with football friends.
I’ll be there and loving every minute.
- You can join Friends of Football for $25 a year – membership is open to anyone who loves the game in New Zealand and supports the group’s objectives. Find out more, and how to buy tickets for the “A Celebration of Excellence” dinner, at http://www.friendsoffootballnz.com/celebrate-footballing-excellence/. You can also follow Friends of Football on Facebook.
[Josh Easby has written about football for 40 years in New Zealand, through newspaper and magazine columns, books, match programmes, websites and since 1997, the daily email newsletter There’s Only One Arthur Bottom for fans of English League Two club York City (of which he is a former director). He coaches the women’s first team at Cambridge FC (NZ) and is on the committee of supporter group Friends of Football. He supports York City, Cambridge FC and WaiBOP United.]
Categories: Other Football Topics
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.